Throughout my life, I’ve frequently heard people talk about how small of a world we live in. My time at Neuchâtel Junior College has taught me that those people must not have seen all that much of it. It’s hard to summarise this year in words when so much of what I’ve seen and experienced has left me speechless, but I will try. Growing up as a part of a family that only exists because of the College—Neuchâtel being the place where my parents met—means that I’ve always kind of felt like I was a part of the school. From always having heard tales about the school and their misadventures from my parents, aunts and uncles, to finally being able to come visit my sister when she was enrolled, NJC has been ever-present in my life even before I, myself, officially became a student. This being said, no amount of memories someone else has shared with me or vivid descriptions of the sights I might see could have completely prepared me for this adventure. After all, no one can substitute their memories for the ones you make on your own. And I have made some great ones with some even greater people. You see, making the decision to come study in Switzerland obviously meant that I expected to learn a lot, but after 10 months in this place, it has become apparent that most of my learning took place outside the classroom, roaming around this foreign place, taking in all there is to take in. After 11 countries, 26 cities, 3 oceans, countless plane, train and bus rides and yet more to come after I graduate, I’ve had more than enough laughs and been a part of more than enough stories to write a novel or two. I’ve been fortunate enough to see more than most people will see in their entire lifetimes, and yet, has this year satisfied my appetite for travel? On the contrary - if anything I’m hungrier than I was before. Seeing so much in such a short time made me realise, more than anything, just how much there is to see out there. I will never have seen or experienced everything that this planet has to offer and I accept that, but I intend on trying anyway. This past year has provided me with a newfound sense of adventure as well as a wealth of life-lessons that I will cherish and think of frequently.
Since September, I have learned many things about myself, the people around me and human nature in general. Notably, that first impressions are no grounds on which to judge a person. So many of the people I met at the College that I now consider closest to me, I had pegged completely wrong at the beginning of the year based solely on the first few nervous conversations that took place during Orientation. People often need time to make themselves comfortable in a given situation before you get a chance to see their true colours. I also learned to stop assuming the people around me were constantly judging everything I did or said; that people, especially the good kind, the kind at NJC, will be more compelled to like you than to dislike you. So long as you cannot think of an indisputable reason why an individual would dislike you, chances are they don’t. The last thing I learned is that, if someone is acting out in a way that may be considered odd, moody or even hurtful, there is usually something going on in their life that you will never know about unless you talk to them. In these situations, it does much more good to ask them what is eating at them rather than retaliating or talking negatively about that person to others. These realisations stem mainly from the general revelation I had this year that human beings are, in fact, inherently good, or, at the very least, well-intended. I think I’ve always been aware of this, but it took countless interactions with great people of all ages in all of the countries I’ve visited, language barrier or not, to bring this way of thinking to the forefront of my mind where it is now embedded permanently. My mentality regarding others and my outlook on life have evolved so much this year that I remember myself last summer, and I’m not saying that I don’t like the person I remember, but I don’t entirely recognize him either. I have changed and grown considerably because of this experience and I am very pleased about it.
With every new place I visited this year, I was provided with a valuable learning experience. Orientation taught me that friends can be found anywhere and that friendships can be made after little more than a conversation. It also taught me that, considering the opportunities I have been presented with, I am among the luckiest of people in the world. Grindelwald taught me that living on the edge is perfectly acceptable from time to time, especially when you have a group of your best friends by your side. Kenya taught me to appreciate everything I have, take nothing for granted and that we really are a global community. Zermatt taught me that family is the most important thing, and that miracles really can happen. London taught me that partying is not synonymous with having a great time and it is not a necessary part of appreciating a new city. Russia taught me the importance of communication and made me thankful for having a second language, even though it was of no use there. It taught me that the world still needs a lot of fixing but that there are people doing everything in their power to find solutions and that anyone can be one of those people. Greece and Italy taught me that the human race as a whole has come a long way to be where we are today and that knowing how we arrived at this point is imperative for positive progression. Finally, Normandy taught me that I love everyone I came here with and that, although we are parting ways very soon, I am thankful that we will all have the opportunity to see each other again someday.
And so, here’s that attempt at a summary of the year that I promised: This year, I hiked up the Swiss Alps during the summer and skied back down them during the winter. This year, I helped build a hospital in Kenya and pretended to be a part of the United Nations in Russia. This year, I stood at the base of some of the world’s most recognized landmarks and stood on the shores of three different oceans. This year, I made countless local friends while speaking solely in my second language and joined them on a rowdy road trip to a hockey game. This year, I became so well acquainted with this little European city that I’ve unconsciously started referring to it as home. This year, I was able to enjoy the company of amazing Canadian, Iranian, Singaporean and Mexican friends, plus a great girl who I can see myself staying with for a long while. What this year was, was a delicious meal. I enjoyed and savoured every large bite I took and now I’m left completely satisfied, but a few crumbs remaining. However, I will become hungry again, there will be more meals to come and I’m keeping in mind that the dessert for this meal will be just as sweet. The dessert will be going home to my friends. It will be seeing where all of my NJC friends end up later on in life. The dessert is knowing that, wherever I go in Canada, I now have an amazing person that I will go way out of my way to see, even if only for an hour or two. This year has been the best year possible and I’m finding it very difficult to believe it’s all actually coming to an end, but so all good things must and the great things must do so all too abruptly. Thank you, NJC, for showing me how to live.